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					                         THE WISDOM IN FEELINGS
   “FIRE: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and
              scholars. Certainty. Certainty. Feeling. Joy. Peace.”
  [A note (in French) found stitched to the coat of Blaise Pascal after he died in 1662.]

Les Murray’s prose poem, Fredy Neptune, tells the story of Fredy Boettcher from
Dungog. Fredy is of German descent and finds himself in Constantinople on April 15
1915 – the time of Gallipoli and the time of the Second Genocide by the Turks against
the Armenians. He witnesses Turkish men burning Armenian women alive in a public
square and develops a terrible skin condition as a result of the horror. He is diagnosed as
a leper. The “leprosy” goes away but he is left without the ability to feel either pleasure
or pain. Fredy becomes a metaphor for twentieth century humanity. “Can anybody cure
me?” he cries.

Healing comes, in the end, through forgiveness. And the sign that he is healed is his
ability to feel pleasure and pain – especially pain – once again. The forgiving and the
healing and the feeling begin in an odd place – a game of tennis at the foot of the cross:

  Hans came up with me
  and got a tennis racket and started hitting a ball
  into the store space under the building opposite
  from where I sat to wait. There was a crucifix
  on the wall near me, and Jesus had his head turned hard
  to one side, as if he was watching just one player
  in Hans’s tennis game; not Hans but the dark space that kept
  returning his shots, mostly skew, so Hans had to chase them.

“The dark space that kept returning his shots.” He had never noticed. The “returned
shots” were “mostly skew.” He never realised that he had to “chase them.” Perhaps he
never knew how, this twentieth century man?

Fredy’s inability to feel had allowed him to live an extraordinary life. But it was
disincarnate, a disconnected life. If he was to be a real human being he had to enter “the
dark space.” That is where he finds the gift that he has been searching for:

  You have to pray with a whole heart, says my inner man to me,
  and you haven’t got one. Can I get one?
  Forgive the Aborigines. What have I got to forgive?
  They never hurt me! For being on our conscience.
  I shook my head, and did. Forgiving feels like starting to.
  That I spose I feel uneasy round you, I thought to them, shook my head
  and started understanding. Hans served and the ball came bounding back
  like a happy pup. Forgive the Jews, my self said.
   That one fet miles steep, stone-blocked and black as iron.
   That’s really not mine, the Hitler madness – No it’s not, said my self.
   It isn’t on your head. But it’s in your languages.
   So I started that forgiveness, wincing, asking it as I gave it.
   When I stopped asking it, cities stopped burning in my mind.
   My efforts faded and went inwards. I was let rest
   And come back to Hans searching under the building for his ball.
   The my self said Forgive women. Those burning? All women, it said.

   Something tore on me, like bandage coming off scab and hair,
   The white tearing off me like linen. And I knew what was coming:
   For give God, my self said.
   I shuddered at that one. Judging Him and sensing life eternal,
   Said myself, are different hearts. You want a single heart, to pray.
   Choose one and drop one. I looked inside them both
   and only one of them allowed prayer, so I chose it,
   and my prayer was prayed and sent, already as I chose it.

Slowly, Fredy is restored to himself. In particular, his ability to feel pain becomes his
way of incarnation, something he had managed to avoid throughout his amazing life, a
life which was more seeming than actual being:

   I learned that week, in love and swears, that the earlier
   times I’d been back had not been full returns,
   just ghostly half-measures, memory dreaming flesh at half gravity.
   Now I was sore and heavy and bogged in chairs. I lifted
   nothing but my long frame, with my wrists; I walked hard stomps,
   I extended all the way in itch and muscle-twist and cloth-rub
   from the head I’d lived in to the feet that had been my far limits ….

Many of us who were trained in the Catholic culture of a previous time, could identify
with Fredy’s comment: “….from the head I’d lived in to the feet that had been my far
limits.” There was a fear of feelings and an over-emphasis on the rational that left many
of us disconnected from our feelings – disconnected, in fact, from ourselves. This tended
to be particularly the case with the clergy. As a result we were more at home with
speaking of doctrines to be believed and moral injunctions to be followed and rules to be
observed. Such things can be defined and understood and controlled without inner
commitment and without facing one’s demons.

This is the stuff of ideology and ideologues, an abstracted life that is more likely to entrap
than liberate. It is not the stuff of healthy and life-giving relationships and questioning
and searching and not knowing and submitting to the Mystery who meets us in our often
sad and fumbling attempts to follow our God-given desires and live out of our deepest
God-given yearnings, even when we do not know that is what we are doing.

Feelings in daily living open us – potentially at least – to depth, colour, richness, vitality
and the uniqueness of who we are. Feelings can connect us with ourselves even as they
connect us to the world of other people, events and things. They do this in ways that no
other powers can. And our feelings can connect us in ways that distinguish us as original.
Our feelings are probably the deepest and most significant expressions of our
individuality and originality as human beings.

Feelings accompany our thinking, willing, remembering, anticipating and imagining.
Through our feelings we know that the landscape of life is not just flat but full of
mountains and valleys, plains and ocean depths, splendid heights, dark abysses and
plateaus. Feelings enable us to be moved with delight and smitten with pain; feelings –
rather than thoughts – enable us to be with others in empathy and compassion. Our most
enjoyable and most wonderful moments are so – at least in part – because of our feelings.
Even when we are in raptures over some pure idea or intellectual insight, it is our feelings
that constitute the rapture.

Feelings are also, as a matter of fact, the basis on which most people make life-changing
decisions. Very few of us change direction in life on the basis of ideas or principles, we
generally do it because of some impetus from our feelings – generally feelings that
prompt withdrawal (eg dissatisfaction or fear or humiliation or pain) or feelings that
prompt attraction (eg physical pleasure, spiritual longing, compassion).

One of the major challenges for religious people today is to recover the feeling dimension
of living. Suppressed and repressed, feelings tend to become demonic. Demonic feelings
can influence – even control – the “religious” person every bit as much as they can
control the non-religious or anti-religious person. Embraced and faced and listened to
and effectively heard, feelings are a unique source of wisdom. They can bring me home
to myself. They can ground me. They can connect me – or re-connect me – to “the feet
…. my far limits.” Feelings can be the vehicles of grace that allow my life to become
like the burning bush before Moses in the desert: “FIRE: God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certainty. Certainty. Feeling. Joy.

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